Functional MRI

Researchers in the Translational Imaging are pioneering the use of a variation of functional MRI (fMRI) technology to study brain function in survivors of childhood cancers. fMRI tracks blood flow to functioning areas of the brain.

The aim of the work is to identify areas of the brain that cease to function normally following therapy for brain cancer and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). This information is expected to help clinicians predict cognitive problems in children and track the efficacy of treatments to restore function.

The work, which has been published in the journal NeuroImage (Neuroimage 24:61-69, 2005), is an important first step in using BOLD (blood oxygen level-dependent functional MRI) to study cognitive deficits in survivors of childhood cancer, according to Robert Ogg, PhD, of Radiological Sciences and senior author of the report. BOLD fMRI measures brain activity indirectly through changes in the level of oxygen in blood. This work shows that despite possible damage done to blood vessels by therapy used to treat brain cancer or ALL, the BOLD response is still intact.

Follow-up studies are underway using BOLD fMRI to identify changes of function in specific areas of the brain that are associated with specific problems in cognitive development. 

The BOLD fMRI studies are particularly important because, as cure rates for childhood cancers have increased in recent decades, the quality of life of long-term survivors has become of increasing concern.

This work formed the basis of the doctoral dissertation of Ping Zou, PhD, then at the University of Tennessee, and now a staff scientist at St. Jude.